Susan Cain, author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, explains that solitude and a quiet mind are fertile ground for creative thought and inspiration. Yet today’s schools, workplaces and other institutions uphold a bias for extraversion and groupthink. Wherever you fall on the introversion-extroversion continuum, getAbstract suggests that you’ll find Cain’s well-researched, often personal lecture thought provoking.
When author Susan Cain was a child, she left for summer camp holding a suitcase filled with books. She pictured a summer of companionable reading with her bunkmates. But others soon urged her to stow her books and adopt the outgoing “camp spirit.” The message: She should try to pass as an extrovert. Such exchanges illustrate a cultural bias against introversion, which incurs great costs in terms of creativity, productivity and leadership.
“There’s zero correlation between being the best talker and having the best ideas.”
“We need much more privacy and much more freedom and much more autonomy at work.”
Introverts are not by definition “shy” – that word denotes a fear of social judgment. Instead, they are reflective individuals who function best in quiet, less stimulating environments. Though a third to a half of the total population is introverted, most classrooms and offices are designed for extroverts. This attitude is a product of “the new groupthink,” a belief system positing that only group interaction is productive. Schoolchildren now sit in “pods of desks” facing other students, rather than in traditional rows. Educators stress group activities and often view students who prefer to work solo as “outliers” or “problem cases.” Yet introverts tend to earn higher grades than their extroverted classmates. In the business world, companies favor open work spaces that afford little privacy, and organizations often overlook introverts for leadership roles. Research from the Wharton School shows that introverted leaders can in fact be more effective than extroverts because they are less likely to suppress the ideas of their proactive employees.
“This does not mean that we should all stop collaborating…but it does mean that solitude matters and that for some people it is the air that they breathe.”
“The more freedom that we give introverts to be themselves, the more likely that they are to come up with their own unique solutions to…problems.”
Often the best creative thinking occurs during periods of solitude. Religions have long recognized the potency of seclusion. Buddha, Moses, Jesus and Muhammad experienced epiphanies during times of voluntary exile to the wilderness. Although collaboration is important, group work is not always optimal. Humans have a subconscious tendency to mirror the beliefs of those around them. In addition, they follow the most forceful or charismatic personality in the group, even when that person’s idea is unworthy. Working alone and then gathering to share ideas may help avoid the pitfalls of group dynamics.
Cultural attitudes toward introversion are nearing a dramatic shift, and three actions will ensure a better balance of extroversion and introversion: First, in schools and offices, enable and encourage independent work as well as collaboration. Second, take more time to “unplug” and be introspective. Third, encourage introverts to open their own metaphorical suitcase: “The world needs [them] and it needs the things [they] carry.”
Many companies currently face the challenge of scaling and sustaining company culture in a hybrid workplace. To state the obvious, you must adjust your approach. The same approach but in virtual format is not sufficient.